Satire confirmed dead: a Bhopal.net feature

Regular readers of bhopal.net might be under the impression that the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal generally stands for things like environmental justice, solidarity with abused and downtrodden people, respect for the sanctity of human life and such like. Dow, though touchingly numbered among our most regular readers, appear to see things differently. A few days ago a mock emergency drill at Dow’s New Jersey plant began with an ‘ICJB demonstration’ that suddenly became a “terrorist attack” involving hand guns, hostage taking, cold-blooded murder and a bomb. Ahem.

Perhaps it’s just more evidence that Stavropoulos et al have recently turned a rather sickly shade of yellow. At the stunt in New Jersey, the ‘Bhopal protestors’ – actually several burly members of a local SWAT team – first marched up and down denouncing Warren Anderson – which frankly would have been more effective done outside his Florida bolt-mansion – then took Dow’s security men hostage, naively demanded to see Warren, planted a bomb and killed somebody because they served up cold coffee. At the end of this fantasy sequence comes the moment of deep wish fulfillment for Dow: the three ‘Bhopal protestors’ are shot stone cold dead. Ok, we expect all this infantile make-believe made Dow feel a bit better about December 3, but for an equation of Bhopal and terrorism grounded in reality all Dow had to do was go through their downloaded back issues of bhopal.net until they reached here. Or perhaps here. Or even here.

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If, however, it’s that Dow is clumsily attempting to tarnish the ICJB’s good name, then this snugly fits a developing pattern of behaviour – though this time involving not only Dow but the entire US chemical industry.

Dow, of course, are a leading figure in the American Chemistry Council (formerly the Chemical Manufacturer’s Association), that lovable meeting of toxic souls that includes DuPont, Monsanto, Bayer, and BASF. The ACC likes to spend its time figuring out ways to undermine legislative proposals aimed at protecting the public from the chemical industry’s excesses. Take the late 1980’s, when the chemical industry was still suffering a crisis of public confidence thanks to Carbide’s multiple homicides in Bhopal. Its wayward son had given the poor old CMA a lot to fret about: “pressure from many sectors, government and private continue to mount for improvement in: indoor air pollution abatement; non-point source pollution control; hazards communications; testing and reporting on effects of toxic substances: and municipal waste management. These and Superfund activities are currently the focus of regulatory activities, and steadily increasing enforcement actions. There is also a clear trend within EPA to levy significant fines, many in excess of a million dollars, for infractions of existing environmental laws and regulations.” (Source: CMA document 083753, The Chemical Industry Archives)

Levying fines for the breaking of environmental laws? Good God, clearly something had to be done about it. Mercifully, two responsible corporate citizens coughed up their chief executives and between their hands they held a Big Idea. You guessed it: Dow’s suggestively named Paul Orrefice and Carbide’s Robert Kennedy – no doubt keen to make amends with his peers for the frightful faux pas that is Bhopal – prefigured Armageddon Inc by twelve years when they united to sell ‘Responsible Care’ to a sceptical CMA membership. At a CMA Public Perception Committee (PPC) meeting on March 8th, 1988, Robert Kennedy colourfully described the proposed Responsible Care programme as, “a chance to get in under an umbrella”. Kennedy then went out of his way to reassure the same meeting that “(Responsible Care) codes define management features expected of the member companies RATHER THAN QUANTITATIVE RESULTS STANDARDS.” That’s public perception speak for ‘it only has to sound good’.

In recent times the ACC seems intent on oustripping the efforts of its previous diabolical incarnation who, thanks again to what happened to Bhopal, were unable to stop legislation in the US such as extensions to the Superfund laws and ‘community right to know’. Today the ACC appears to believe that it can use the spectre of 21st century ‘terrorism’ to obscure the concrete 20th century terrorism of Bhopal by way of a “proposed ‘Environmental Patriot Act’, under which the core public disclosure principle of environmental regulation may now become a casualty of the drive to make us safe from terrorism.” Not only that, the ACC has also been fighting Federal security legislation that would force them to take action to address their genuine vulnerability to terrorist acts, and the potential health catastrophes that could result.

Let’s try to put some of these pieces together for a second. Dow chooses to represent a protest for justice in Bhopal – where the terror has never ended – as terrorism. Thus the terrorised is painted as the terrorist.

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If this gross inversion of reality isn’t perverse enough, the stunt is performed in order to demonstrate that Dow can police the risk of actual terrorism voluntarily, without the need for legislation. At the same time Dow, as a core member of the $250 billion chemical industry lobby, actively manipulates the public fear of terrorism in order to do away with ‘right to know’ legislation that came about as a result of Bhopal.

To boil it down to its pernicious essence: the criminals guilty for what happened in Bhopal, who continue to escape punishment by evading the law, demand the liberty of policing themselves. By associating the Bhopal justice campaign with terrorism, Dow aims to help keep away new legislation and help get rid of existing legislation, both of which have been designed to prevent another Bhopal.

Now, the jet black ironies contained in this scheme clearly suggest that we are in the presence of devious ‘minds’ at work. And if you’re not wholly convinced by the above, consider the following evidence.

The ‘precautionary principle’ is an environmental policy that requires that new chemicals should not be allowed into the market place unless they are first proven safe. The ICJB strongly believes in the precautionary principle. Bureaucrats in the EU recently proposed legislation that would enshrine the precautionary principle in the statute books. The new EU chemicals policy – called REACH, for Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals – would require the chemical industry to provide basic health and environmental data for the tens of thousands of chemicals currently on the market that have never been properly evaluated. These chemicals have been accumulating in the environment and, a number of recent studies have shown, in human body tissue and even breast milk – one slow, vast, global Bhopal in the making.

Naturally, the chemical industry abhors the precautionary principle. So much so that they’ve mobilised on a massive scale to try to see off its implementation in Europe. The affair has brought a number of high profile friends of the industry out of the woodwork. That the current US administration is among them will surprise nobody. And we are not entirely staggered to announce that – furtively, inevitably – Dow are one of the principal agents named as being behind a multi-agency effort by the US EPA, State Dept., Commerce Dept. and others to weaken the EU chemical policy reforms.

Wait just a second, the US Environmental Protection Agency? That’s correct. As this DOC1 shows, and as the report’s author Joe Di Gangi commented, “the US government essentially operated as a branch office of the chemical industry.” And that includes the agency with an explicit responsibility to protect everybody’s environment.

Environmental protectors protecting the polluters? Proven criminals policing themselves? The terrorised as terrorists? Whither satire in the world Dow would have us live in?

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Then again it isn’t just the US chemical industry/government on the offensive. The European chemical lobby has also been howling in pain. Fighting his way to the front, Hovione chemicals boss Guy Villax found a splendid way to highlight the dreadful danger posed to the public by the precautionary principle. Bewailing the already terrible strictures forced upon the chemical industry, Villax suggested that production would inevitably have to move to the far east. “Sadly,” he whined, “these business opportunities seem to lead some people that appear to have neither the technical competencies, nor the ethics, nor the civic development to be involved in advanced technology industries. The consequences are dead people and deformed babies.”

Hazardous technology run by untrained staff, unethical management, few local mechanisms for protecting those in danger, resulting in preventable deaths and multi-generational effects? Villax has to be talking about Bhopal. So there you have it, the chemical lobby’s diseased logic in a nutshell: ‘try to protect the public from slow Bhopals and know what you’ll get? Something, er, a lot like Bhopal…’

Quelle surprise, the campaign has proved outstandingly successful. According to Greenpeace, “heavy chemical industry lobbying and scaremongering have weakened the regulations almost beyond recognition.” In finally publishing the proposed legislation the EU ventures that “estimated direct costs to the chemical industry have fallen 82% compared to the previous draft proposal” – before scuttling back into its corner. And these are just the proposals.

Of course, it’s one thing mithering the bureaucrats of the old world into submissive compliance, but what do you do about the tree huggers back home? An internal ACC memo – ironically, leaked – provides some enlightening answers. It’s perfectly simple: you spend buckets of money creating fradulent front groups to oppose the advocates of the Precautionary Principle, and you set upon those advocates an organisation of ex-CIA and FBI agents, the “attack dog of the public relations industry”, to conduct “selective intelligence gathering … about the plans, motivations and allies of opposition activists… Focus on the PP ‘movement leadership’ in the U.S., and in particular, California.” The Washington based Nichols-Dezenhall crisis communications firm is notorious for such dirty methods as sifting through personal refuse. You can read the contents of the entire grisly memo here.

So here we have the proof, if it were ever needed, that the chemical industry’s membership embraces fraud and dirty tricks to deal with its critics. How far it will go to deal with its victims, whose lives stand as an implicit denunciation of its actions, we are now beginning to understand.

In Bhopal, what happened, and what is happening still, is far from unique; but it remains the single most visible and dramatic indictment of a rapacious industry that desires to place itself above the law at all our expense. Dow, not simply the carrier of Carbide’s liabilities but also the de facto leader of the chemical industry, couldn’t be more desperate to be rid of an abiding stigma that till today keeps its activities in check. So desperate that it will plant absurd yet entirely malicious ideas in the public mind in the hope they’ll eventually bear twisted fruit.

“We’ve turned the corner with the events of 9/11”, chirped Dow’s New Jersey Security leader Michael Stephenson after the ‘Bhopal terrorists’ had been shot. “We had hostages and a vehicle bomb. And the irony of it is it happened on the day they got Saddam Hussein.” I think you and I are seeing a different kind of irony altogether, Mike.

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A typical gathering of members of the ICJB… as conceived by Dow
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What a gathering of Bhopal protestors actually looks like
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Genuine terrorism of the corporate kind

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